Fast food sure ain't what it used to be. These days, urban slackers have clusters of "fast-casual eateries" to satisfy their immediate demands, like the one in front of Target on East Colonial Drive. First came the drive-through Starbucks, then Chipotle and now the snazzy Pei Wei Asian Diner (prounounced pay-way), operated by P.F. Chang's. And while Pei Wei is a testament to the fact that the convenience market is stronger than ever, their menu has panache and, I'll admit, better choices than the fast food of my Big Mac generation.
The Pei Wei concept was created to be a competitor in the noodle shop trend, but they offer more than just noodles. They also offer rice bowls, salads and an array of pan-Asian "signature dishes" that bring together Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese cuisines.
Since P.F. Chang's practically put lettuce cups on the culinary map, no visit to Pei Wei is complete without an order of minced chicken ($6.25) or chile-seared pork ($6.25) lettuce wraps. Both have tangy fillings loaded onto cool, crisp lettuce.
Among the noodle dishes, my only disappointment was with the pad Thai ($6.25) the gummy noodles laced with crushed peanuts were missing flavor that could have been remedied with a few turns of fish sauce. The lo meins ($6.25) with shiitake mushrooms and pungent garlic sauce were comforting and satisfying, just what a bowl of noodles should be.
The rice bowls, which come with either brown or white rice, are gracefully simple, such as the shrimp with lobster sauce bowl ($7.25), which looked tempting. But I stuck to the array of hugely portioned signature dishes like the blazing noodles ($7.25) which all come with high-quality meat and interesting sauces. This is my kind of fast food.